Boarded the train to Reims this morning and headed to champagne country. Reims is a fairly large city northeast of Paris surrounded by hills dotted in vineyards.
Our mission in Reims was two-fold: see the cathedral in Reims (it’s stop #4 in Ina Caron’s book) and visit one of the many wine caves in the city. Since the only tour en anglais was in the morning, we found our way to G.H. Martel & Co. — an very inconspicuous building that you would pass by if you didn’t know what you were looking for.
Underneath the city of Reims is a massive network of wine caves. The cave we visited was originally dug in the 9th century to remove limestone which is used in all the beautiful stone buildings you see throughout France. Local citizens hid from the Nazis in the caves in WWII. The Ardennes area in which Reims resides has been producing wine for centuries…but since Dom Perignon invented champagne in the late 17th century, the area has focused on the bubbly.
We received an excellent tour on how champagne is made and the differences between vintage champagnes and the regular stuff. I even learned that the sediment removed from champagne is used to make mustard. Who knew?
For centuries, the grapes were picked in late September, but thanks to global warming, harvest time has shifted to late August or early September in the last few years. Interestingly, it takes about 100,000 pickers to harvest the grapes in the area as it is done entirely by hand. Migrant workers from Eastern Europe supply most of the labor.
G.H. Martel & Co. is a family owned company founded in 1869. The company sells about 4 million bottles per year, but you won’t find it easily on the shelves in the U.S. The company exports only about 5 percent of its product to the U.S. where it is a high-value champagne marketed under the Victoire brand. It is, as you might expect, quite delicious. Our tour ended in a tasting of three — including a vintage year (2005) and a pink champagne. I particularly enjoyed the pink.
Champagne isn’t the only reason to come Reims — though it’s an awfully good one! If you want to be the king of France, you must travel to Reims to be crowned — or so explained Jeanne d’Arc to Charles VII, a real bastard both figuratively and literally. Charles did make it to the cathedral in Reims to be crowned king — thanks to Jeanne’s battle savvy — but he abandoned his warrior virgin to the British who burned her as a witch, though I suspect she was executed more for having successfully kicked their British butts on behalf of Charles. Regardless, there’s a solemn statue in the cathedral of Jeanne d’Arc.
The cathedral at Reims was virtually destroyed in WWI and WWII, but it has been restored. I particularly liked the Marc Chagall stained glass window.
Breathtakingly beautiful…A local craftsmen used the same technique used in the Middle Ages to get that lovely blue background color. The middle window emphasizes the lineage of Abraham down through to Jesus Christ. French kings since Clovis — the first Christian king of Gaul (France) — have sought to tie their lineage to Christ, thus having an “divine” right to rule. Clovis converted to Christianity at the urging of his wife and was baptized on Christmas Day 496 in a small church in what is now the cathedral in Reims.
Long before the Christians made it to Reims…the Romans were there. John and I visited a Roman gate left standing in Reims. Four roads led to Reims from Rome. Can’t say I blame the Romans for wanting to sample the fruits of the vine!